We meet once a month on a Monday evening at 7pm. This season we are in the Morley Room, upstairs at Helmsley Arts Centre.
2023 dates: 13 Nov, 11 Dec
The work we bring to the meetings should be no longer than it takes to read in five minutes or less. The time limit has proved a useful curb on verbiage!
We've been delighted by the wide range of different responses to the themes we’ve come up with, both in style and content.
Further activities for the future may include workshops, public readings in the Arts Centre programme, outreach into local schools and more detailed exploration and analysis for those members submitting their work for in-depth feedback.
We regularly display members' work in the Arts Centre foyer and place audio/video recordings of it here and on HAC's facebook page. You can read some of our work here
The current yearly membership fee is £20.
We welcome writers at all levels of experience and you do not need to live in Ryedale.
If you would like to join Ryedale Writers, please email [email protected]
Here are some pieces written by our members:
In memory of Nick Gaunt, who died as a result of an accident in his glider, here is a story he wrote in February 2019, just one of a series of family tales that entertained us over the years since he joined in 2012
by Nick Gaunt
"Punctuality indicates a mind that lacks independence" was one of my mother's many irrational and idiosyncratic aphorisms. Dad seemed not to notice these
far-flung statements but this one fitted his character like a glove. He was very independent and always late. This was largely because he was so often diverted from
what he set out to do. One spectacular example happened when he visited Thailand in search of fire damaged jute. His business in those days was in recycling waste fibres.
In the middle sixties Bangkok was a relatively rural town. There were few streets and thousands of canals and the jungle was close at hand. It was unlikely that Dad should
see the orchids growing in a tree while looking out of the window of the landing 707- but he did.
On landing Dad went down the line of taxi drivers asking each one if they could climb trees. Being Dad he found one. What landmark he spotted on the approach into
Bangkok we shall never know but he found the tree and the taxi driver shinned to the top and cut the orchid out and brought it down. The international laws about these
things were considerably more relaxed than nowadays. All quickly done and really no excuse for sending the telex saying he would be three weeks late in returning home.
The orchid happened to be a species that was uncatalogued and unknown. There were gardens attached to the Royal Palace and orchid aficianados, including gardeners to the Royal family, are a sort of international mafia, who all seem to know each other. They had to be consulted, permission obtained and, of course, there was the possibility of additional specimens. Putting the plants into some sort of rudimentary quarantine seemed like a good idea as well, even if it would make for some small delays.
The jute of course, had also to be located. It seems that as it was still smouldering from the fire and very soggy, it had been spread out on an island, on a river with an
unpronounceable name,well up-country.You know that when people say, "time is of the essence ", they mean that there isn't much of it and speed is the most important thing. Not with Dad. The difficulty of agreeing a price for some 20,000 tons of damaged jute, organising collection and shipping, - what a God send! Maintaining a positively
mediaeval rate of business meant the price to the insurance company could be reduced to less than nothing …. Dad was having the stuff shifted for them! Above all it gave
plenty of time for all the other important transactions that had to be sorted
Dad arrived back from Thailand some six weeks late, with an extra five suitcases full of orchids. This meant of course that the greenhouse had to be doubled in size. He
thought doubling the size from 30 feet long and 10 foot wide to 60 feet and 20 foot should just do the trick.
A couple of years later the Royal Horticultural Society gave the “Taxi Divers Ochid“ an award of merit, an official painting and the name, "Diana Gaunt", after his
daughter-in-law. A good remembrance of the late Norman Gaunt.
by Mary Reval
She was a sliver of light,
clad in pastel colours. Her hair
wheat straw in the wind.
Her voice a murmur of the air,
fading away in meekness.
In the shade of her superior,
nobody noticed her frail beauty,
her invisible presence.
When the attack started, she quietly
slipped into the office cupboard,
froze in horror for six long hours,
heard terrorists discuss how best
to blow up the building and its people,
then slid out and gasped the words,
‘Don’t be afraid.’ Open mouths stared
at her. She added, ‘Please understand.
Don’t shoot. I don’t want to die here
in the cupboard.’ Ambushed by a surge
of quite unplanned compassion, one of them
asked, ‘Were you in there all that time?’
A speechless nod. They offered her
a chair, a drink and let her go.
She staggered out with broken wings.
If only I could...
By David Smith
If only I could..
take you back to 1938
being the runt of the litter
he had to rent a farm in the sticks
with his young wife a small child
two cows, a shire horse, a few hens
so stand close behind them
as they stare at loose tiles
how far she would have to carry water
within the year the six acre
scheduled for oats
sprouted Nissen huts
full of Italian voices
now see him stumbling
behind the plough
I wish I could have told them
it will be alright
that the Italians will leave
and oats will be sown
more sons will arrive
If only I could....
By Michael Sosner
“I could die one day” thought the young boy.
“If only I could die” the elderly lady on her deathbed had said to him. “If only I could go ‘pop’ and be no more.” She was nearly ready. “I have no purpose
left”, she said. “There’s nothing more to keep me here. But it is not easy to be no more”.
Her throat was closing up. She no longer moved much but for the rise and fall of shallow breaths. Malic acid was slowly building up in her joints. There was no synovial fluid. She sometimes choked when the water that she tried to drink passed into her windpipe. Thickening the water helped.
“What has been the most special thing in your life?” she asked him one day. “For me it has been friendship.”
Her friends came and visited their goodbyes. After the last of these had been and gone she became calm. But the boy persisted in his daily visits.
“You are a good friend to me!” she told him.
To her, nothing much outside of the room mattered any more. But that room was as enormous as the gateway to another dimension. There was an entire
world between the two of them. In her case, that of a long life lived. And a life that he had yet to live.
Could she teach him a thing? He sat with her hand in his. Now she grasped it and didn’t speak or open her eyes. Once, she opened her eyes and he was
looking into her face. She smiled and so did he. She closed her eyes again. They existed holding hands in a golden silence.
He felt it, profoundly. It sent him wondering what would be the trajectory of his own life before he reaches the threshold she is at. He is at the gateway to
an inevitable journey of his own, facing many as yet unknown human interactions.
She is squeezing his hand. It brings him back into the room. The couple are clasping each other on a springboard to a magic space.
By Barbara Newman
Looking back, it all started the morning I got my first bus pass. It was the same day I was to meet up with an old school friend for a “cuppa ‘n’ catch up” – as we liked to call it. I was a tad over excited about it all, and without realising, the thought of it had gone to my head.
Once sufficiently caffeined and caked we decided to mooch round every charity shop the town had to offer in search of something we couldn’t possibly live without.
“I’ve got to go to Boots.” She said, suddenly remembering. “My Jim’s got his usual problem. I’ve promised to get him some of his cream.” Her eyes rolled heavenwards, partly with a look of sympathy but mainly with one of here-we-go-again. I stifled the urge to giggle. It wasn’t funny. Much.
Just inside the Chemist’s, my attention was drawn to the display of hair dyes. Was it perhaps the BOGOF sign emblazoned over the products they obviously couldn’t sell that had attracted my attention or was it that ever since my pass to OAP freedom travel had dropped through the letterbox, Jenny Joseph’s poem When I am old had been subconsciously running through my brain. I took a box off the shelf and read the back – mmm, seemed simple enough.
“What you looking at those for? You’ve never dyed your hair in your life.” My pal had returned clutching a tube of Jim’s relief. I ignored her, engrossed as I was in the instructions.
“What colour is it?” She carried on regardless.
This time I looked at her, she was obviously wrestling with what to say next. Her mouth opened. Nothing came out. So she closed it again.
I carried on. “Oh, what the heck. I’m going to give it a whirl. That’s the thing about hair, whatever you do it, it will either wash out, grow out or fall out, then you’re back to square one.” My mother had always warned me of the perils of being over confident - cocky, she called it, and here I was.
I set to work that very evening, first impressions were good. However. In the cold light of the following day I wondered why the Bride of Dracula was staring back at me in the bathroom mirror. To be fair, the blurb had been right = Yes, it HAD covered all grey hair. Yes, it HAD given a good, even colour. Just
not my colour. I looked like a vampire in urgent need of a pint or two and not in the snug of the Colliers Arms.
The words I had said so glibly to my friend about ... whatever you do to your hair etc ... came mothering back.
Sadly, I was going to look like this for some time but never mind, I’ll just have to trawl around the charity shops again looking for a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.
Marion Hall combined two of our monthly themes: "The thing is..." & "What would I advise my sixteen year old self?"
What advice would I give my sixteen year old self? I have no idea. But it would not have mattered. The thing is, at sixteen I knew everything. I knew my parents were old fashioned fuddy duddies. I did not want a life out in the sticks. I was going to London to become a famous ballerina, have a grand house and lots of boyfriends .
By the age of twenty five I had a husband, a farm and a family. My ballerina feet had to pirouette in wellingtons.
The middle years were a juggling act. Balancing the needs of elderly parents, the wants of teenagers and the demands of running a business.
Now I am a senior citizen. The world is my stage, my life has come full circle. The thing is, I know everything. I know what my children should do, what the grandchildren ought to be doing and how to improve every government policy.
I shall tell them all of course……but not today……maybe tomorrow.
by Penny de Quincey
In the plague years we were less visible.
We slipped quietly into the great houses
Wherever we were welcomed. But the richest
Often nursed the greatest fear. We left them
Scouring their bodies for signs that we had
Brought the contagion to live amongst them.
In darkness we polished our lutes until
They gleamed like skin stretched taut on merchants’ skulls
and honed our words til they were sharp as blades
that would pierce the hearts of all who heard them.
We sang to ourselves in the dead of night.
We played for the souls of the dead.
When we emerged from darkness into light
We found a world stripped of its gentleness.
The people had been harrowed like their fields
Their voices were hoarse, their words were half-formed.
We sang of nightingales and unicorns
Of sweet briar and honeysuckle. Of love.
Their tears flowed as freely as our melodies.
by Ione Harrison
In the valley of the Windrush light
the days of summer pass slowly
for these new lovers:
they wander for hours
along damp lanes and river paths,
by Cherwell, Isis and Thames,
through Port Meadow’s molten orchids.
They swim in muddy water
where cows swing their udders
and slurp their feet in the green brown river.
Soaked in dew, they return at dawn
past spectral beasts and herons gliding
through green tangles
of meadowsweet, bullrush and cow parsley.
she is fragile, unreliable
as the catch of a flame in kindling,
so one night
as the moon hangs
like a silver hinge
between light and dark,
he winds her
onto his fingertips
like new prints,
spooling out the thread of her.
For days she wears
the bloom of his fingers
around her neck
like a necklace.
With the press of his thumbs
he is locked inside her,
as if he were a pulse of flame
at the throat, slow-burning.
Easter – The thrush flew into the window
by Jeanette Hambidge
By a transparent wall
And the illusion of air
Here in my hand
Beautiful and brown
There is no weight to him
He will not become tired
By the second half of life
Can you see what we can do?
Even to Him
Held up by wounds
On his feet and in his hands
You could stick your fingers through
And the nails
Whose invention was that?
And who agreed
That yes it was a good idea
A decent invention
Cross and nails.
And then who else
Said yes let’s do more of that.
Cross and nails
Yes let’s do that
Over and over again
It is a good idea
We will write it into law
This is a right and just punishment.
See what we can do.
A Man I Used to Know
by Sue Harris
“Now then. I’ve just come to have a cup of coffee with you, lass.”
So he would turn up, unannounced, at my back door, and he and his dog would come in and settle at the kitchen table. At ease, he would reach into his pockets, slowly unpacking his tobacco and rolling a cigarette, with practiced yellowing fingers, while the kettle boiled.
We had lived in the village for fifteen years and were still regarded as newcomers. The story went that you had to fall in the beck before you could consider yourself a true villager, and I soon realized only children did that. Robin was the first real ‘villager’, rather than ‘incomer,’ to have crossed my doorstep.
And so there he sat, ancient underpants rolled over the top of grubby trousers, splendid in grey Victorian whiskers, regaling me with stories about the village and villagers past and present, one of them about a ‘yowth’ who ‘fell up off ladder t’other day’.
The children would burst in from school and look at me quizzically. This was a smoke and dog-free house hold, yet there the old man sat, wreathed in smoke, watched by his adoring old dog, whose smell had by now pervaded the house. She struggled to get up to welcome them, and found that she was just tall enough to do a circuit of the room, licking all the kitchen’s surfaces. They fled.
Robin had first come along, agile and fearless, to replace cracked pantiles on the roof, somehow always sourcing old tiles which fitted and matched perfectly. Over time, though, he became less agile and wiser. He took to turning up at the end of winter, announcing that he’d ‘come to clear t’gutters’. His bills were random, sometimes negligent, sometimes exorbitant, depending on need.
On one such visit Robin was waiting for me when I came home from work. He gestured at the doorstep.
“I’m coming back tomorrow to fix your step,” he said. “We can’t have ye living wi’ that.” I looked at the back door. I was so used to the step that I had never noticed how narrow and unstable it was. The next day I returned to find two solid steps the width of paving stones. Henceforth, each exit from the house was to be a dramatic entrance onto the world’s stage.
“Thank you very much. Do you have a bill for me?”
“Nay lass. I shall be back tomorrow to put you up a handrail.”
“I don’t need a handrail, Robinl!”
It was not long after that I heard that Robin had died. We can’t always tell who we will profoundly miss. I think of him in all my comings and goings.
And here are some videos we’ve made during the lockdowns.